LINCOLN SQUARE — If the printed word is dead, somebody forgot to tell the nearly 300 fans who swarmed The Book Cellar for a hardcover copy of the The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the first from popular food blogger Deb Perelman.
The planned 1 1/2-hour event ended up lasting five hours.
"It was a really incredible crowd," said Perelman, who began the Smitten Kitchen blog in 2006 and quickly garnered such a devoted following that the site has been her full-time job since 2008.
"I never once said, 'I'm going to have a big site one day,'" she said. "I think I did get lucky."
Book Cellar owner Suzy Takacs, who's seen her share of Harry Potter and Twilight frenzies, said that the Smitten throng was the "craziest" she'd witnessed. Having ordered more than 400 copies of the book, she expected to sell nearly every one.
Credit the strong connection Perelman has built with her loyal readers.
"The only reason I'm here is because she's here; it's the opportunity to meet the person," said Westmont resident Matt Molby, 29, who admitted he could have purchased the book just as easily, and for less, on Amazon.
Yet at the recent event, Molby and wife Brandi, 28, patiently stood in a line that spilled out onto The Book Cellar's sidewalk. "You find someone whose taste you like, it's like finding your favorite movie reviewer," he said.
"You could look up a cake [recipe] anywhere, but hers comes with a story and personality," explained Lakeview resident Hannah Altshuler, 23. "We just love getting to know the person through the recipes."
Krista Parsons, 56, of Hoffman Estates, snagged the coveted first spot in line.
"There's a lot of blogs I read that I wouldn't bother to go to the book signing," said Parsons. "I like her style of writing."
She perused the recipes with her friend Maureen Gregory, 51, of Streeterville, who introduced her to Smitten Kitchen.
"I keep opening it to the blackberry white chocolate pudding with blackberry curd," Parsons said. "It makes you want to make everything."
The root of Perelman's appeal lies not only in her mouth-watering recipes but her accessibility.
"Why are we being so difficult?" she rhetorically asked of her fellow food writers. "Vanilla bean paste — I would never ever put that in a recipe. Why make somebody feel they need to buy something special? You can help people or you can make cooking an uphill battle."
Fans have responded enthusiastically to Perelman's practical approach, which was born in part out of necessity — her cooking quarters in New York City measure a cramped 42 square feet.
"We have small kitchens, too," said Liz London, a 24-year-old from Wicker Park.
That twentysomethings like London view Perelman as a virtual friend and role model amuses the author.
"I'm, like, most of their moms' age. I'm so impressesed ... when I was 20, I didn't cook," she said.
Even stranger: A generation that grew up with the Internet and fell in love with Perelman via the Web couldn't wait to grab a tangible version of the Smitten Kitchen and behold the real, live person behind the blog.
Said Altshuler: "A computer will break down. A personal object is a more intimate thing you can touch."
Perelman initially resisted the idea of putting together the Smitten cookbook, which took her three years to write, in large part because 85 percent of the recipes are new and any repeats from the blog have been revisited.
"I really like the blog format. I like cooking whatever I feel like that day," she said. "My least favorite thing is being away from the site."
Ultimately, she wrote a book because she hankered for a physical representation of her Smitten labors, not so much for herself but for her now 3-year-old son Jacob.
"I wanted him to have something he could hold in his hand."